One of New York’s best-kept secrets is a piece of art hidden inside the Taco Bell on the corner of Eighth Avenue and 51st Street in Midtown Manhattan.
Past the self-order kiosks and Baja Blast Freeze machine is the fast-food restaurant’s restroom. You’ll have to order a Crunchwrap Supreme to use it. (Frankly, you’ll need to use it after eating a Crunchwrap Supreme.)
Enter the bathroom and you’ll find little more than a dirty toilet and an unassuming faucet. But look with a discerning eye and you’ll see what Dean, a Brooklyn-based filmmaker, sees. This isn’t just any urine-stained public restroom with wet toilet paper degrading on the floor. It’s home to a work of art.
That is, a “dependable” and “pleasant” porcelain sink.
Under the TikTok account Sink Reviews, Dean — who requested partial anonymity so he could keep the “character” illusion of his faceless videos — traipses around New York City, reviewing public-restroom sinks. What started as a personal hobby on Instagram turned into a cure for pandemic boredom, and then a viral hit on TikTok. His account has over 710,000 followers, one of many popular niche hobbyist accounts with alt-ASMR appeal.
Dean is a filmmaker by trade but a sink reviewer by hobby. He believes in the democratization of what constitutes art, so he’s set his discerning eye — and iPhone camera — on public restrooms. “The kind of art that gets included in museums or galleries is traditionally very gatekeeping,” he says. Not just the art on display: The entire aesthetic of high-society buildings is designed to give off auras of luxury and prestige. “You expect the sink at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to be the best-designed sink in the world,” he points out. “But my question is, ‘Is it?’”
Dean, like all true critics, has answered his own rhetorical question. He gave the Taco Bell sink three out of five sinks, while the Dyson Airblades in MoMa received only two sinks. “Like a painting that doesn’t connect with you, I feel I’m left cold by these. The water flow is frail and uninspired,” he says in his TikTok review of MoMa’s public restrooms. “These faucets attempt to broadcast taste and refinement when all they actually communicate is a shallow attempt at taking a shortcut to achieving style by an institution that should know better.” Whew! Now that’s a scathing review. Jerry Saltz is shaking.
With a delicate, discerning speaking tone, Dean connotes credibility and mystery. He’s the Anton Ego of New York public restrooms, the Roger Ebert of bathroom basins. His affectation is perhaps more popular than his casually ruthless reviews. “Currently using sinkreviews for its therapeutic qualities. Thank you,” a user comments under his review of the High Line Hotel bathroom. Another TikToker says of his stop at the Jora RestoBar in Queens, “Sometimes when my day is going rough, I see the daily sink review and realize everything’s gonna be a-okay.”
Most of us write off the humble sink. It’s bland and ubiquitous; nearly everyone has at least one in their home. Yet for something so rudimentary as a faucet running water, sinks come in endless designs and increasing price points. The world’s most expensive sink — an aluminum basin coated in 24-karat gold and diamond accents — retails for $80,000. Or at least it did in 2012.
But what’s perhaps the world’s most reliable sink? That’d be located at Syndicated Bar Theater Kitchen in Brooklyn. With a communal basin constructed of “fine” and “sturdy” stone and covered in graffiti, the sink and its “unflinching” water flow are unparalleled. Dean gave it a five-sink review. A rarity for this critic. Sorry, MoMa.